PROFILE IN ALIYAH
I was in seventh grade at Solomon Schechter when I first remember thinking about Israel as a homeland. We just watched the movie Entebbe, which recounted the heroic rescue of the hostages of Flight 139 at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Although part of my fascination with the operation was my crush on the actor who played Yoni Netanyahu in the movie, I was also deeply moved by the story. My teacher, who was Israeli, explained that at least in those days Israel would do anything to rescue Jews and Israelis in need. He tried to explain the sense of community that existed in Israel when he was growing up.
Four years later I decided to see for myself if Israel retained that sense of community. I went on my first trip with 31 other students from my Hebrew school. I had an idealist vision of Israel on that trip, in part because all we saw were the tourist sights, and in part because I wanted to see Israel as my perfect homeland. While recounting the plane flight, I wrote in my journal, "Occasionally, I looked out the window to see Europe. However, the most exciting part of the plane ride was first seeing a birds-eye view of Israel, and then seeing it zoom in until we were on the ground and I was home."
Soon after we landed, I fell in love with the friendly, laid back Israeli culture. When we had some time to explore the old city on our own, I wrote, "Next we went to the Jewish quarter. We heard the Moslem call to prayer – very pretty. We went to the cardo, and searched for different answers in a scavenger hunt. We ended up getting all the info from one English speaking Israeli. He was really nice, it was so much fun. We even took a picture with him and his family – touristy, but fun."
I also connected with Judaism in a way I didn't think was possible. At that time I hadn't yet experienced the religious and secular divide in Israel, instead I found it really liberating that I didn't have to define my practice by denomination, like I did in America. On Shabbat, I was able to connect with Jews of many different backgrounds, and for a moment, it didn't matter how you practiced. Remembering the experience, I wrote, "At the Kotel, we sang Kabalat Shabbat, and then began to dance. It was so amazing to see so many Jews of all different backgrounds come together to bring in Shabbat. I didn't want the dancing to end."
Although I realize now that religion in Israel is a lot more complicated and does not always connect people, I still feel a religious pull toward Israel. Even when my secular friends in Israel make fun of me being religious, they still understand Shabbat and holidays. No matter how religious you are, Shabbat in Israel is the day of rest. Everyone finds a different way to relate, but whether it's camping, going to a concert, going to synagogue, driving to the beach with family, or announcing Shabbat Shalom on the radio, Shabbat in Israel feels like Shabbat.
Over the years, my relationship with Israel has matured. I spent last summer in Israel (2007), and did not feel like I was on a spiritual high. I was living and volunteering in Bat Yam for part of the summer and on an army base for the other part. I met people that were really struggling to live. I met soldiers who were coping with what they had seen and done and children affected by terror and poverty. While I felt very alone at times, I also had an overwhelming sense of "this is home." Seeing people who I felt so connected to struggle, I knew that I wanted to move, not only so that I could feel at home, but so I could make a small difference, and help build up my homeland.
After toying with many different ideas for what to do after graduation, I finally decided that it was time to try making Aliyah. I know Israel is where I want to eventually raise a family, and it's where I'm happiest. I decided to make aliyah now, so I can take advantage of ulpan and government benefits, so that I can realize my dream of becoming a teacher.
However, even though I've been told there are many opportunities to teach English in Israel, every time I get information about a biology teaching position here, the thought of applying will cross my mind. I have been fascinated by biology and have seen teaching as my way to better the world since middle school, and putting that passion on hold until is difficult. Eventually, after going to graduate school for biology and possibly working in the field, I may try to teach biology, but at least for the first few years, I am excited to teach English.
While it's hard for me to put my biology teacher goal on hold, at least until my Hebrew gets good enough, it's even harder to leave my family. We're the type of boundary free extended family, where I'm also close with my cousins' other grandma. When I make aliyah, I will really miss being able to call my grandmas anytime, and I'll miss the family games we play on Shabbat afternoon. Although it won't stop me from missing them or them from missing me, I am very fortunate that my family supports my decision. They understand that Israel is something special to me, even if they don't understand all of my reasons. With my family and friends behind me, I am ready to go home.
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